Papers of John Robb Fleming

Scope and Content

The collection covers China and southeast Asia, and features paper, objects and audio-visual materials.It contains: personal items belonging to Fleming; correspondence from missionaries and Christians; notes on mission work in Manchuria; papers on Christian education in China; notes on conferences and councils relating to Christian work in China; reports, articles and papers by Fleming; publications on China; correspondence and reports on Christianity in southeast Asia; slides showing Chinese arts, culture and religion; sound recordings made in China and southeast Asia; and photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

John R. Fleming, Church of Scotland missionary in Manchuria and Sichuan, China, Singapore and southeast Asia, was born in Greenock, Scotland on 21 December 1910. He attended school in Glasgow and entered Glasgow University in 1929. His family belonged to the Church of Scotland but Fleming had no early interest in becoming a missionary. His original ambition was to join the Indian Civil Service but while at university was directed towards the ministry and stayed on to study at the divinity school. On graduating MA, BD, in 1935 he went to Heidelberg to study then returned to Scotland to become an assistant pastor in Port Glasgow where he was working when he was ordained.

In 1938, after hearing G. P. Littlewood speak, Fleming determined to become a missionary in Manchuria. He was married in the same year to Pearl Clark Kerr (1911-1993) whom he had known since school in Glasgow. The Flemings sailed for China in August 1938; they spent six months studying Mandarin in Beijing then moved to Xinming in Manchuria. They continued their studies but also became involved in the work of the church and teaching. In the spring of 1941 they moved to Liaoyang where Fleming was responsible, in partnership with the Chinese, for co-ordinating the work of the churches in the area and where his wife taught English. However, with the approach of war the Flemings were persuaded to leave Manchuria. They hoped to go to India and then to enter western China but were delayed for four months in Singapore, then the ship taking them to India was bombed and sank so they also spent some time recuperating in Jakarta.

Once in India the Flemings worked until the end of 1942 in Ajmer, Rajistan then managed to secure a flight to Chongqing, Sichuan. For nearly two years they were responsible for the Church of Scotland schools at Wanxian then returned to Scotland for furlough at the end of 1944. After the war in 1946 the Flemings were among the few missionaries invited back to Manchuria. Fleming taught in the Moukden Theological College and worked with the International Relief Commission while his wife taught English and gave birth to a daughter in 1949. Along with many other missionaries the Flemings left Manchuria in 1950. They then went to Singapore where Fleming continued his work in theological education, building up a network throughout south-east Asia. He was heavily involved in the East Asian Christian Conference and promoting the development of east Asian churches.

The Flemings returned to Scotland in 1968 after which Fleming was appointed Senior Lecturer in Divinity at St Andrew's University where he stayed until his retirement in 1976. He continued to have a keen and active interest in the church in China and Asia and in human rights in the area. In 1981 Fleming was one of three representatives of the British Council of Churches to visit China, the first official visit of British Christians since 1949, although he had paid personal visits in 1972, 1975 and 1980. His interests also included the promotion of mission studies and the history of religion, and he published widely. He was awarded DD by Glasgow University in 1971. Fleming's wife died in 1993 and he died on 27 June 1999.

Access Information

Open to researchers. It is essential to arrange an appointment in advance to view the archive in order that someone can be available to help. Please contact us by email at Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.

Acquisition Information

The collection was acquired in two stages: John Fleming donated material in 1992, and his daughter Jenny Fleming-Ives donated further items in 1999.

Other Finding Aids

A paper catalogue listing the collection more fully is available to researchers at the Centre.

Archivist's Note

Description originally written and researched by Caroline Brown in June 2001. This had been added to Archives Hub in August 2012 by Louise Williams.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of materials (for example by digital camera) is free for private research and educational use, although we ask researchers to sign an agreement. Please contact us for enquiries on using the material in a commercial setting, for which there will be a fee. Contact us by email at Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.


No further materials are expected to be added to this collection.

Corporate Names